Imagine that you are appointed to a “School Task Force” to establish a school. Proceeding thoughtfully, you would probably have questions to be answered before you felt ready to establish a school. How many students will attend? Which grade levels? What classes will be offered? How long will students be in attendance? What facilities are needed? To build a school without having this information would be foolish, in that you might end up building a high school when what was needed was a preschool.

Last October an Animal Shelter Task Force was appointed, including me. Similar to the word “school,” the term “animal shelter” covers a lot of territory from animal control through humane societies. To determine what Oak Park needed in the way of an animal shelter, we learned which services are already available, and what services are still needed.

Oak Park is fortunate in that it already has the services of several humane societies. These organizations find adoptive homes for our homeless animals, and they do it at no charge to Oak Park. However, Oak Park does not have an adequate or permanent location for animal control, which is the “entry point” into the animal welfare system for most homeless animals. Therefore, an animal control facility became our focus.

To determine the space requirements for an animal control facility, we asked questions and found answers consistent with standards in the field of animal welfare. How many animals will be served? How long will they be in residence? Will adoption services be offered directly from animal control? How will adoptability be determined? What arrangements are in place for transfer of animals to humane societies? What are our current relationships with area humane societies? We compiled and made sense of our information in the form of recommendations, and then made a preliminary report to the Board of Trustees.

Two of the trustees, Robert Milstein and Gus Kostopulos, conveyed shock and disappointment at the report. They did not want the information we provided (they may have felt that we were not qualified to provide it). All they wanted, they said, was a site for an animal shelter. However, without a clear understanding of the services the facility would be expected to offer, which will exactly impact the number of animals in residence, we could not reasonably determine a facility, very much like a School Task Force could not determine a school until they knew who the school was going to serve with which classes. I think everyone understands this, including Mr. Milstein and Mr. Kostopulos.

The problem is not that we are recommending policies; the problem is the policies we are recommending. The majority on the animal shelter task force acknowledges the need for euthanasia.

There is what has been termed a “strong minority” on our task force. This “strong minority” consists of two people who believe that Oak Park can have a no-kill animal control facility. No-kill sounds wonderful.

Now let’s move on to thought number 2. Some animals are unadoptable, particularly aggressive dogs. What will become of these dogs who will not be adopted? Shall we store them in cages for the rest of their lives? Shall Oak Park build a warehouse to store them? I know that the opinions of our “strong minority” are based in compassion, and that is what is so ironic. What could be more cruel than to cage for the rest of its life a companion animal who has no future?

And worse than that, while that unadoptable animal is occupying scarce shelter space, adoptable dogs are being euthanized by the thousands five miles east of here at Chicago Animal Care and Control simply because there is nowhere for them to go.

At some point, those involved in making recommendations and decisions need to acknowledge a larger reality, and work within the framework of animal control facilities and humane societies to bring about the best possible outcome to the largest number of companion animals.

To return to the “School Task Force” analogy, our “strong minority” would like to build a high school with a very questionable curriculum, when it turns out that a well-run preschool is what we need.

Although two trustees were not interested in the information the task force majority presented, it is nevertheless essential information to consider before any type of facility is planned. I fervently hope that the trustees obtain the necessary information from experts in the field of animal welfare. Those experts are ready and willing to help, as the success each animal welfare organization enhances the success of the animal welfare system.

? Kathy Capone is chair of the Animal Shelter Task Force

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